CHINA'S top judge said yesterday there should be no letup in the hard line against criminals. Judge Ren Jianxing said the 'iron-fist' approach should continue for the next 15 years. He made the call at a law and order conference in Beijing, Xinhua (the New China News Agency) said. The conference is part of a series designed to map out the work of various government departments for next year. Judge Ren - the secretary of the Communist Party's Central Commission of Political Science and Law - laid down eight principles for law enforcement officials, reminding them that 'maintaining social stability' should be their top priority. In cases of serious crime, judges should follow the principles of 'heavy sentences and quick trials', he was quoted as saying. Special attention should be given to corruption cases. Commercial crimes which threaten China's transition to a socialist market economy must be dealt with swiftly, he said. Officials were also told to avoid alienating themselves from the public. In some cases, they should mobilise the public to fight crime. And they should remember to safeguard the 'integrity of the socialist legal system'. Officials were told to improve management of police, offering officers better treatment and benefits. Most important of all, Judge Ren said, was to follow the Communist Party's absolute leadership. Judge Ren said all officials must give the question of 'internal conflicts among the people' - party jargon for dissenting political views among the people - their utmost attention. But he stopped short of calling for heavy sentences for dissidents. By following these principles, officials should manage to tackle the country's soaring crime rate, Judge Ren said. Social stability and a sense of law and order must be realised not just in big urban cities but in villages as well, he said. Local government officials should not interfere in the work of their law enforcement colleagues, and must stop protecting their own cadres. The judge also warned of the rise of commercial crimes in recent years and reminded officials to heighten vigilance over tax evasion, smuggling and fraud related to securities, real estate and futures markets.